Alex Jones will have to pay millions to the parents of Sandy Hook victims.
Fox News might be on the hook for over a billion dollars after making bogus 2020 election claims.
It turns out there actually might be a way to stop the constant stream of lies coming from the right-wing media. How can we do it? Two words:
This won’t defeat the right’s media ecosystem overnight — but defamation law may prove to be one vital weapon in the battle against misinformation. Let me explain.
Alex Jones, you may recall, had used his website InfoWars to portray the Sandy Hook school shooting massacre as a hoax involving actors, aimed at increasing gun control. Parents of victim children sued Jones and his media company for $150 million — ultimately winning an initial settlement of $49 million.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut had already found Jones liable for defamation. And as a result, Jones’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy.
Even though Jones lost this case and finally admitted that the Sandy Hook massacre was “100 percent real,” he’s probably not going to stop making harmful and deceptive videos anytime soon.
But this defamation lawsuit will serve as a warning to both Jones and others in the media who build their business models around spreading lies.
One America News, a Trump-allied media organization that pushed conspiracy theories about the election, is facing so many defamation lawsuits from those harmed by the start-up network’s lies that its future is now in doubt.
Talk about cutting the chord.
Defamation lawsuits have also been filed against more established right-wing media organizations, like Fox News.
Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election information technology used widely across the country, is suing Fox for $1.6 billion over false claims they say the network knowingly made about its software following the 2020 Election.
The case could potentially be a huge financial blow to Fox, and serve as one of the most consequential First Amendment cases in a generation.
Again, to be clear, defamation litigation will not single handedly stop the rampant spread of misinformation taking over the airwaves and the internet. These lawsuits can take years and often end up being expensive, plus some of the media organizations peddling lies are bankrolled by conservatives with deep pockets and a radical agenda.
It can also be abused, and in some cases, pose potential threats to the free press. Although, if news outlets are alerted to errors and correct them quickly, defamation shouldn’t be a problem.
But at a time when social media companies clearly can’t be trusted to moderate themselves against weaponized lies — and elected officials have done little to step-in — the courts might be the best avenue we have to take on manufactured deception and put it to rest.
Where other methods to counter half-truths and exaggerations being spewed by Fox News and their ilk have failed, defamation law might make companies think twice before they knowingly spread falsehoods — and help stop the vicious cycle of lies, clicks, and profits that further divides our country.
Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.